I’m dating myself by saying this, but I remember when you could find really great stuff* in thrift shops: Bakelite radios. Art Deco vases for a quarter. Eames chairs for $15. Rya rugs. Higgins glass. Chrome cocktail sets. 1940s barkcloth. World’s Fair juice glasses. *Not all at once
The other day, I decided to find out whether you could find anything at all worth buying anymore.
I was on a mission. I was thinking of the empty shelves of the cottage in Springs (left and below) I’m going to contract on next week. I’ll need to furnish and kit out the place cheaply and in a great hurry, between closing April 15 – fingers crossed, God willing, Inshallah, spit spit – and Memorial Day, which I hope will be the start of my summer rental season.
So I started at one of my old haunts, the Salvation Army in Bed-Stuy (the one on Downing Street near the Broken Angel House), where, back in the day, I picked up a hand-tinted panorama of Genoa, Italy, for $7; an entire wardrobe of some lady’s super-stylish, big-shouldered 1940s cast-offs, for $20; and a great, swooping sofa a la Vladimir Kagan, upholstered in orange with glints of gold.
The place hasn’t changed a bit. It’s still dreary and depressing, with that thrift-shop smell.
But I held my breath and picked out a white melamine mixing bowl, a set of Oxo knives, and a green wire drinking-glass carrier that might be ‘old’ (total $12). Not very exciting. Then I went into the furniture department and spotted, among plaid couches and utter crap, a blonde wood armchair with webbed seats that I momentarily hoped might be Jens Risom but quickly realized was IKEA.
No matter. It was $25, in great shape, and will totally work in Springs. I bought it.
I moved on to the Goodwill on Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn, where I had an epiphany: where yesterday’s thrift shops were filled with the products of Woolworth’s and Kresge’s, today’s are filled with second-hand Target, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, IKEA, and Martha Stewart for K-Mart. Which would actually be OK, if the prices were startlingly better for those incomplete sets of dishes and silverware. But they aren’t, which begs the question: why not just go to Target, IKEA, etc. and buy the stuff new?
Still, I bought two turquoise chargers ($4) and four dessert plates with hula dancers that I recognized from Fish’s Eddy ($8, probably the same as Fish’s Eddy).
Thrift shop bonanza
Then I made a final foray to the Bendel’s of thrift shops, Housing Works on Montague Street. And there I didn’t buy anything. Why? Because the abundance of well-priced, relatively tasteful stuff (white restaurant china and glasses for $1-2 apiece, a plywood media unit on casters by Blu Dot for $165, all the art and photography books I’ll need to fill those shelves) is such that, when I’m absolutely sure the cottage is mine, I may not need to go anywhere else.